hungary will withdraw troops from iraq

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    BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) - Hungary will withdraw its 300 non-combat troops from Iraq by the end of March, the country's new prime minister said Wednesday, dealing a blow to the United States' effort to hold the Iraq multinational force together.

    The former communist country, which joined the European Union in May, sent the troops as part of the U.S.-led coalition, but the government has been under mounting pressure at home to pull out.

    Recent polls had shown that around 60 percent of Hungarians wanted an immediate withdrawal. Hungary has a transportation contingent of 300 troops in Iraq stationed in Hillah, south of Baghdad.

    President Bush has struggled to keep the U.S.-led multinational force from unraveling since Spain pulled out its 1,300 troops earlier this year.

    Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said Hungary's troops will leave by March 31, after elections in Iraq slated for the end of January.

    ``We are obliged to stay there until the elections. To stay longer is an impossibility,'' Gyurcsany said at a ceremony to mark the end of mandatory military service in Hungary.

    There were no immediate signs Wednesday that other coalition members were considering pulling out their troops.

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